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After waiting a year, CSUB's 2020 graduates receive a commencement ceremony

Last year COVID-19 robbed the class of 2020 of any kind of commencement ceremony. So this year, Cal State Bakersfield made extra space to have official ceremonies for its 2020 graduates right alongside this year's.

These graduates may not need the same sort of advice typically doled out at commencement about what to do in the heady days after finishing their last round of finals. Most already have jobs, entry into graduate school or are in training programs. But many say that returning to campus with their class, walking across the stage in a cap and gown and shaking CSUB President Lynnette Zelezny's hand in front of their loved ones was a meaningful ritual worth waiting a year for.

Giselle Gomez, a biology major, drove three hours from Riverside with her family for her commencement ceremony Sunday morning.

"A piece of paper is like, eh, we got a diploma. But the actual ceremony is different," said Gomez. "I'm pretty grateful that they did this."

Ariana Aleman, a fellow biology major, said it felt a little nostalgic to be back on campus, especially since she hadn't been back since early last spring. Both women have moved on to the next phase of their lives — Gomez with a master's program and Aleman for a training program to become a clinical laboratory scientist. But the ceremony is giving them a sense of closure about their time at CSUB.

"It kind of didn't feel real until now," Aleman said. "It's happening."

Ricardo Guzman, a philosophy major, said it's nice to be able to gather again with his classmates after everything that had happened with the pandemic.

"It's a little bit unbelievable, because I didn't think I was going to have the chance to walk," he said.

But he said that the commencement is, in a way, more about family, the people who supported him through his college career.

"They're the ones that deserve here to be here more than I do," Guzman said.

Some graduates shared the sentiment that the ceremony was more important for their families than themselves. Esteban Rodriguez said that for him and many of his friends, coming back a year later felt a little surreal, especially because so much has happened in the year since they graduated.

"It's moreso for our parents, because a lot of us feel over it at this point. Like a lot of us have jobs," he said. He laughed, adding: "It's for the photos."

But the year hadn't dampened anyone's pride about their loved one's achievement. There are always cheers as graduates cross the stage, but the audience for the 2020 graduates on Sunday morning seemed especially exuberant. Cries such as "That's my sister!" and "That's my fiance!" punctuated the ceremony with regularity. There were tears, too: Relatives choked up as if their loved ones had just passed their finals last week.

Sonya Monarrez said she held a small family party for her son Julian Adame when he graduated last year, but it didn't feel like enough. 

"I've been waiting," Monarrez said. "I bought his (graduation) gear last year. Even though we were in the pandemic. I was like, 'I'm ordering it. I don't care. 'Cause you're going to take a picture in it, and you're going to take a picture with your grandma.'"

At age 94, Emma Adame said she's glad she got this chance to see her grandson graduate. She said she's been blessed with a long life and a big family, but it may be her last graduation.

"This has been exciting," Adame said.

After graduation, Monarrez planned to surprise her son with a luncheon that would include out-of-town family and guests — the graduation party that she would have given her son a year ago.

Sunday's ceremony honoring 2020 graduates was a big occasion for the Orozco family, who drove from Strathmore, a small town just north of Porterville. Jennifer Orozco is the first college graduate in a family of six children.

"My parents are immigrants, so they never got that education," her sister Vanessa Orozco explained. "So for her to get that, she's like getting it for them. It's like she's graduating and they're graduating."

The family waited outside the soccer field where the commencement program was winding down. Her little brother patiently held up a poster congratulating Jennifer. They had plans to go out to eat — and then whatever the college graduate wanted to do. 

"It's been a good journey," Vanessa said.